Golf

PGA Notebook: Dustin Johnson cards his best opening major round in more than a year

Dustin Johnson discusses opening round at PGA

Dustin Johnson spoke to The Sun News following his 1-under 70 in the first round of the 99th PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte.
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Dustin Johnson spoke to The Sun News following his 1-under 70 in the first round of the 99th PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte.

For the first time in more than a year, Dustin Johnson is in a competitive position after the first round of a major championship.

Johnson shot a 1-under par 70 Thursday in the 99th PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club for his first under par opening round in a major since his victory in the 2016 U.S. Open.

The 70 has Johnson three shots off the lead of Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark and Kevin Kisner of Aiken and tied for 15th.

“I think 1 under is a good solid start,” Johnson said. “I definitely left a few shots out there but I’m pleased with it. It was a good, solid round, and I’ll go put another one up there tomorrow. … I think any rounds under par around here are good.”

After winning his first major last June, the Coastal Carolina alumnus opened the 2016 British Open with an even-par 71 en route to tying for ninth, and opened the PGA Championship with a 77 that led to a missed cut.

This season, Johnson missed the Masters with a back injury, shot a 75 in the opening round of the U.S. Open at Erin Hills en route to missing the cut, and shot a 1-over 71 in the British Open on an opening day when many players in the field were well under par.

Johnson hit 11 of 14 fairways off the tee, though he missed seven of 18 greens in regulation.

“I hit the driver really good,” Johnson said. “I hit a lot of fairways and never really got out of position off the tee. I think that was the big key for me today.

I hit the driver really good. I hit a lot of fairways and never really got out of position off the tee. I think that was the big key for me today.

Dustin Johnson

“… I hadn't been swinging that good. I definitely hadn't had a lot of confidence in the driver. This week, I worked hard on it and I got a lot of confidence in the driver. I feel like I'm swinging it really well. I’ve got control over it finally. The ball is kind of starting where I want it to and it’s got the right shape.”

Johnson struggled with Quail Hollow’s fast, firm and undulating Champion Bermudagrass greens that were redone in 2016. The longest putt he made Thursday was 7 feet.

“The greens are very difficult. I thought they had a lot of tough pins out there for Thursday,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter how long the putts is, it’s hard.

“They’re very slopey, they’re really fast, so it just makes it difficult to putt. There are a lot of little knobs where if you hit it high it’s going to stay high and hit it low it’s going to break away from the hole. You really have to hit putts with the correct speed.”

Johnson started his round with a birdie on the par-5 10th, chipping from the rough to 4 feet, but he gave the stroke back on the next hole when he missed the green from 135 yards in the fairway and missed a 7-foot par putt.

He birdied the par-5 15th by chipping to 3 feet after hitting an uphill 3-wood that went over the green from 290 yards out.

“I knew the club I had I needed the wind to be hurting for it to not go long,” Johnson said. “I hit 3-wood and I hit it right at the flag. I was pleased with where it ended up.”

A bogey on the tough par-4 16th, where Johnson found a right greenside bunker from 190 yards and missed an 18-foot par putt, dropped him back to even par.

Johnson got under par again with a 145-yard approach to 3 feet for birdie on the fifth hole, and missed an opportunity with a three-putt par on the par-5 seventh, lipping out a 6-foot birdie putt.

“I missed a few short ones, but all in all it was a pretty solid day,” Johnson said. “I felt like I hit the ball well, I was controlling my distance pretty well, and the few other times I missed the green I was getting up and down.”

Living the dream

Chris Stroud was the last player into the field aside from alternates as the winner Sunday of the Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nev., which was for PGA Tour members that didn’t qualify for the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational.

He made an eagle to culminate a final round in which he also made nine birdies, and won a three-man playoff over Richy Werenski and Greg Owen.

The win is the first on the PGA Tour for Stroud, a 35-year-old Texan and former Lamar player who is in his 11th season and has played in 290 tour events.

“I’m just going to keep living this foggy dream I'm in right now and ride it as long as I can,” Stroud said.

The win gives Stroud a two-year exemption on tour beginning next year. He said he has received 1,400 text messages, 55 voicemails and “probably another 100 emails,” and he said he has replied to each one of them.

“When I was 9 years old, I knew I wanted to be on the PGA Tour,” Stroud said. “When I got out here, obviously my dream was to win and be as good as I can. It’s at least a 20-year dream come true.”

When I was 9 years old, I knew I wanted to be on the PGA Tour. When I got out here, obviously my dream was to win and be as good as I can. It’s at least a 20-year dream come true.

Chris Stroud

Stroud made three birdies on his first nine and 15 pars Thursday. He began with consecutive birdies on the back nine, hitting a 60-yard approach to 4 feet on the par-5 10th and a 9-iron to 5 feet on the par-4 11th, and he added a birdie on the 18th hole with a 6-iron to 15 feet.

“Obviously I'm playing well,” Stroud said. “I’m swinging it nicely and putting it well. That has a lot to do with it. It's a deep confidence that I have.

Stroud was planning to return home to Houston and spend the week there with his family, and was short on clothes.

“I have been on the road for five weeks in a row,” Stroud said. “My plan was to go to Houston where I live, see my baby girls and have this week off and then go to Greensboro. Obviously winning got me in here. So I had to go from Reno to here.

“My wife had to bring me extra clothes but that's a good problem to have. I did all that and I am just so thankful.”

Stroud has changed his approach to the game this year.

He said for the past six months he has stopped putting pressure on himself to win and even stopped trying to convince himself he was good enough to win on tour. “Since I surrendered to that, it's like all of a sudden . . . it falls in my lap,” Stroud said.

In addition, for the past two weeks, Stroud and his caddie have avoided any conversations about golf between shots.

“I stay distracted. I have used so little energy out there, it's incredible,” Stroud said. “We talk about anything but golf. We talk about science. We talk about spirituality, baseball, football, Texans, Houston Astros – anything to keep my mind off golf. As soon as I hit it, I'm talking about something else. . . . It's just an experiment we tried last week and it absolutely worked.”

Stroud was thankful to get into the tournament for several reasons, among them his affinity for the golf course.

“You have got to shape it both ways off the tee. You have got to shape it off the greens. You have got to stay in really good spots in the greens,” Stroud said. “They have done a great job. It’s definitely one of best on tour.”

Daly runs, collapses

John Daly whipped his loyal followers into a frenzy for 16 holes Thursday before his opening round came to a crashing conclusion.

Daly, the 51-year-old two-time major champion who won on the Champions Tour this spring, was 1 under par and in the top 10 with four birdies through 16 holes.

But he bogeyed the tough par-3 17th hole when his tee shot was short of the green and he failed to get up and down, and triple-bogeyed the par-4 18th.

He had 185 yards to the pin in the fairway and pushed his second shot into deep rough to the right of the green. He left his first chip in the rough, chipped to 11 feet and three-putted for a 7.

The run of terrific golf and implosion are both emblematic of Daly’s eventful career.

Early exits

Andrew “Beef” Johnston withdrew Thursday with a shoulder injury following a 78 in the opening round, and reigning The Players champion Si Woo Kim withdrew with a back injury following a 79.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with a rib injury on Monday.

Johnston’s withdrawal puts his PGA Tour status for 2018 in further jeopardy.

He is currently ranked 185th in the FedExCup standings with just one top-10 this season. He is committed to the Wyndham Championship next week, the final event before the FedExCup playoffs, and may need to win to retain his card for next season. The injury makes that seem wholly unlikely.

That means Johnston would need to qualify through the Web.com Tour Finals Series to retain his card.

Alan Blondin: 843-626-0284, @alanblondin

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